Another day, another country. The plan today was to fly across to Turku in Finland. The bad weather front was forecast to clear Turku by late afternoon, so I thought that if we stopped en-route to explore another Swedish town, we could arrive later in the day when the bad weather had cleared. I had previously intended to land at Västerås ESOW hoping to meet one of my ‘remote’ students who I had taught via Zoom during lockdown. He’s now got his PPL but sadly was out of the country this week.
I phoned the tower for PPR as required, and emailed Hässlö Flying Club who “handle” the smaller GA flights but got no reply. Västerås tower had said that no flight plan is required for the internal flight, just the international leg, so that’s what I did. I also emailed Turku airport with our intentions for good measure.
It was easy to pay the landing and parking fee at Växjö information desk; all very reasonable. To enter the apron, you press the call button at the exit gate and someone comes out to let you in – no need for the full security scan because you are well away from passenger traffic. They were testing a replacement engine on one of the smaller regional prop aircraft as we walked to our plane – they had thoughtfully positioned the propwash blast to avoid our plane – but we got a taste of just how powerful these engines are as we walked across some distance behind them.
With an hour before the airport’s next commercial flight, we checked everything, started up and called for taxi. After passing a few details, we received a squawk code which was good for the entire flight. Our departure clearance at the hold was exit to the north below 2000 feet (to stay inside the TMA). It was again quite bumpy after take-off, and I requested a climb which was initially granted up to 3,000 feet and subsequently up to FL55. When outside controlled airspace, I made a further climb to FL60 just to remain on top which was considerably more comfortable than below.
Sweden definitely has a lot of trees, and you could see where swathes of forest have been cut down and/or replanted. A sawmill had an enormous mountain of sawdust outside. No wonder IKEA furniture originated near to such a massive source of timber. What you don’t see are many wind turbines that we noticed are so common across Germany and Denmark. Lakes, large and small, frequently dot the landscape, edged by small cabins on the shoreline, each with a pontoon or pier and a boat on the water.
We parked on Apron 4 at Västerås, exited through the Hässlö flying club. The cafe was open but I couldn’t find anyone to ask about paying our landing fee. We took a bus into town for a quick look around and to grab some lunch.
Västerås to Turku
After lunch, back to the airport. Once again, although the flying club was open, I still couldn’t find anybody who could take my landing fee. I later emailed the airport operations who told me to expect an invoice in the post (which did arrive about a week later). We hopped back in the aircraft, called for taxi and confirmed our flight plan. By now the airport was more active, with two other training aircraft at the hold, one on the instrument approach and another private aircraft taxiing for fuel. After a very short delay, we were cleared to depart via Björksta (the standard VFR departure to the north east) initially not above 1,500 ft. Again it was quite bumpy at lower levels, but I quickly climbed up to FL55, where it was calmer and remained above the clouds for the rest of the trip.
My flight plan included a routing point of HMR on the coast, which ensured I was well clear of any Danger Areas. By that time, I was talking with Sweden Control which was also handling all sorts of commercial aviation both inside and outside controlled airspace. After coasting out, it’s only about 10 minutes flying time to the FIR boundary and Finnish airspace.
I had previously been completely unaware of the island of Mariehamn which lies a few miles off the Swedish coast and belongs to Finland. From there, an archipelago of islets are sprinkled across the Gulf towards the Finnish mainland. It didn’t feel like we were making a sea crossing. On first call, Helsinki Information took a little time to respond, but thereafter it was straightforward. I spoke briefly to Mariehamn Tower, who cleared me through their airspace at or below FL55, and shortly afterwards announcing they were closing for the day. The good weather persisted, and before long I had the Turku ATIS and was talking with Turku tower (which was combined with approach). There was one other commercial inbound, which caused the controller to position me for a VFR join from the south of the airport in case of a go-around.
The weather observation at the airport was 1,000 feet cloudbase and ATC agreed that I could approach under Special VFR with a view that if there were any difficulties I could then fly an IFR approach. Visibility was good, the cloudbase around 1,700 feet until very close to the airport, and I was given a left base join with a clearance to land when still a few miles out.
There were a number of masts and towers to avoid, so I kept one eye on SkyDemon to know where to look but most of the time keeping a sharp lookout. The wind was again quite demanding, gusting 5 to 20 knots and variable. So this was another rock and roll show on final but worked out to quite a smooth touchdown.
We were allocated parking stand number 1. After tidying up, we could walk to the GA exit and press a buzzer to be let out. Another airport bus was waiting outside and departed almost immediately into town. I booked our hotel while on the bus and it only involved a few minutes walk through a park at the other end.
I recall visiting some years ago on a business trip when it was particularly hot (about 30 degrees C), which is a problem here because there is almost no air conditioning. I have fond memories of where we had dined and drunk beer on boats moored up on the riverside, with the sun barely setting at night.
It wasn’t anywhere near that warm on this trip, but the sun was out and we enjoyed wandering around the city along the river bank, and inside the castle. Apparently this is one of only three left in the country, and had required substantial renovation; it is now regularly hired out for weddings and other functions. The range of displays, number of rooms and variety through the ages was extensive, albeit if it meant climbing and descending many flights of stairs. The original wooden city almost completely burned down in 1827 when most of the able-bodied population was away at a festival in the north. A few of these old wooden buildings remain as a museum attraction. We found a huge athletics stadium, and an open air lido which must be one of the furthest north in the world. There are many bridges over the river, but also a passenger chain ferry downstream, which is free to use and takes only two minutes to cross.
What struck us as different here is that almost everybody is very sensibly dressed to cope with the cold and icy weather – no high heels or flamboyant clothing, it’s all very practical. Apartment blocks are common, presumably being cheaper to heat and maintain, but there are some nice houses in the suburbs. As elsewhere, you can find bicycles and electric scooters available for rent, food delivery by bike (under the Wolt brand) and good public transport, with buses powered by bio-diesel. Most cars here are still petrol or diesel, but it was not far enough north to find electric power outlets at parking spaces (used to keep the engine blocks from freezing overnight).
PIC time today: 3:05
Total PIC: 2031:10
Total Time: 2244:20